I just wanted to let you guys know about a new development that I’m excited about. Maybe this fits in the category of “cheap thrills”, but here goes:
All the recordings I’ve released to date are now available in Amazon.com’s new MP3 store. Those recordings include:
- Bubble Gum (single)
- The Lord’s Prayer (single)
- That Time of Year (4-original song Christmas EP)
Mind you, these recordings have been available in a number of digital download stores for awhile. Those include iTunes, eMusic, Napster, and Rhapsody, among others. On-demand CDs and music lead sheets are also available at Lulu.com. So why am I excited about this one?
Before I answer that, I should provide a little perspective. Currently, iTunes is the biggest digital download store going, and it has certainly been the most popular one for purchasing my recordings, as well, accounting for over four times the volume of its nearest competitor. Many digital download stores have come and gone, or hung around at the margins, without coming close to iTunes’ success. While I think part of this is due to the relative seamlessness of the iTunes software and store, I believe the biggest reason, by far, for this success is the dominance of iPods as portable players for digitally downloaded music. Most of the other digital download stores to date have had various forms of DRM (Digital Rights Management), enforced by the recording industry to protect their wares, which were incompatible with the iPod. Oh, you could play the various downloads on various specific MP3 players. However, if you wanted to play them on your iPod, you either had to jump through hoops (e.g. burn the files to CD then rip them into iTunes), or you had to buy them from iTunes in the first place.
On the other side of the coin, if you had an MP3 player other than an iPod, you couldn’t use the iTunes store to get downloads for your player without jumping through hoops. The iTunes format had its own form of DRM that only played with iPods. iTunes has since come up with a DRM-free format and higher quality recordings, but the format is still not a common one that will work with most other MP3 players, and not all recordings are available in this format anyway. (I think all mine will be eventually, but, as of the moment, only “Bubble Gum” is available in the higher fidelity, DRM-free format. I have no clue how iTunes determines which recordings get into the new format at any particular point in time.) Also, the companies servicing this market have been somewhat in flux. For example, Sony’s CONNECT service recently announced it would be closing down sometime in the not-too-distant future.
Amazon’s late entry into this market might seem to put them at a significant disadvantage. On the other hand, their having waited for the market to shake out a bit, while observing what has and hasn’t worked for others, puts them in a better position to learn from others’ mistakes. Furthermore, now that much of the recording industry has come around to DRM-free downloads, Amazon enters the market at a point where they can service users of all MP3 players, including iPods.
Of course, Amazon’s already being a trusted on-line retailer is a big plus. It’s not only that you can feel relatively safe that they’ll be around for awhile, or that you’ve probably already given them your credit card information. That is part of it, but the other part of it is that, if you like, you can buy real CDs, computers, digital camcorders, MP3 players, beauty products, and digital downloads all in the same on-line shopping trip. It’s kind of like making a virtual trip to Target or Wal-Mart, only without having to endure the long checkout lines, especially this time of year. Only it’s better, because you can find pretty much everything there, not just the most popular products that justify taking up shelf space in stores across the country.
All those aspects add up to making Amazon perhaps the first digital download store that has a chance to challenge iTunes. That is part of why I’m excited about their MP3 download store, but there’s another reason, too. At least as of the moment, short of purchasing the on-demand CD versions of my releases, which provide full CD quality, the Amazon.com offerings represent the highest fidelity, most hassle-free versions of these recordings. They are 256 kbps, DRM-free MP3 files, which you can play on any MP3 player, play on your computer using software you certainly already have (be it Windows Media Player, Winamp, iTunes, or whatever), burn to CD, and do anything else you might do with regular MP3 files. I might add that Amazon supports multiple pricing levels. Whereas most digital download stores charge a flat 99 cents per track, Amazon has multiple pricing tiers, and many recordings (including all of mine), are available for 89 cents a track. (The pricing tier used is a choice made by the record companies or independent artists who own rights to the recordings.)
I also think that, if you’re already comfortable with Amazon.com in general, as I am, the shopping experience may even be a bit friendlier than iTunes. For example, maybe I’m just missing something with iTunes, but I’ve always found it to be inconvenient to play the 30-second preview song clips for multiple songs from an album. It seems like it only plays one song at a time, and sometimes pressing what I think should play another song’s clip just replays the song I’d just played. With Amazon, though, you can even preview all songs on an album, or all songs across all albums from a single artist, in one go. Thus, Amazon’s MP3 store has recently become my favorite place to audition short bits of albums quickly, whether I’m just curious or even thinking about buying the CD.
Only time will tell how Amazon does in this new market, both in terms of comparison to iTunes and the others and in terms of sales for independent bands and artists like me. At the moment, though, I’m really jazzed about this new option. I think it likely provides the best value going at the moment, while also providing access to a very wide selection of music, from both major labels and independent artists, and a comfortable on-line shopping experience. Don’t take my word for it, though. Check it out, and see what you think. I’d be very interested in hearing others’ impressions, whether you’ve bought a zillion dowloads through iTunes or one of the other stores already, or you’re a total newbie to the idea of digital downloads. (For the record, I still prefer real CDs, and have never been into portable players, be it iPods, Walkmans, or whatever.)